Airspace design

The objective of Airspace Design is to ensure an efficient, flexible and dynamic airspace structure, based on multi-option routeings and areas of Free Route operations, supported by adaptable ATC sectorisation, that will accommodate future air traffic demand and meet the SES Performance requirements in terms of capacity and flight efficiency, in a cost-effective manner.

The design of the European Route Network, as described in Annex 1 of EC Regulation No 677/2011 (the Network Management Implementing Rule - NMIR) calls for the establishment of a European Route Network Improvement Plan. The Network Manager has to develop, through a cooperative decision making process, the European Route Network Improvement Plan as part of the Network Operations Plan.

The strategic Network Operations Plan, including the European Route Network Improvement Plan, is approved each year by the governance structure of the Network Manager.

The content of the European Route Network Improvement Plan, as described in the NM IR is as follows:

  • Common general principles complemented by technical specifications for airspace design;
  • Military airspace requirements;
  • An agreed European route network and, where feasible, free route airspace structure designed to meet all user requirements with details covering all the airspace change projects;
  • Route network and free route airspace utilisation rules and availability;
  • Indications on recommended ATC sectorisation and sector families in support of the ATS airspace structure to be designed, decided and implemented by the member states;
  • Guidelines for airspace management;
  • A defined development timetable;
  • The calendar for a common publication and implementation cycle, through the Network Operations Plan; and
  • An overview of the current and expected Network situation, including expected performance based on current and agreed plans.


The co-ordination and consolidation of airspace design, planning and implementation is achieved through Cooperative Decision Making (CDM) at European network level as well as at regional, national and local level.

The Route Network Development Sub-Group (RNDSG) is the co-ordination forum for European airspace design and development. It consists of the, planning and implementation of improvements in the European ATS Route Network (ARN Versions), and of optimised civil and military airspace structures and ATC sectors.

In order to support the RNDSG in the development, validation, implementation and publication of all airspace improvement proposals, EUROCONTROL developed an interactive and online database: the ERNIP Database. This web-based application enables an easy access and sharing of information, a swift assessment of the proposals and a faster approval process and implementation.

For more information on the ERNIP Database functionalities, access conditions and useful contacts, and for registering and accessing this application, consult the route and airspace design service.

The European Route Network Improvement Plan has the following sections:

  1. The Framework Document: general description of the document and its parts;
  2. Airspace Design Methodology: general principles and technical specifications;
  3. ATS Route Network Version 2018-2019/22: Catalogue of airspace projects 2018-2019/22, providing a consolidated picture of the European airspace structure aimed to deliver a safe and operationally efficient operation of air traffic.;
  4. Airspace Management (ASM) Handbook: ASM guidance material for the coherent application of Flexible Use of Airspace;
  5. Route Availability Document (RAD)

ERNIP Implementation Monitoring


Process to optimise the European Airspace structure

In 1992, the International Civil Aviation Organisation European Air Navigation Planning Group (ICAO EANPG) invited EUROCONTROL “to organise and carry out the necessary coordination of planning and implementation activities for improving and upgrading the ATS route network in the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) area (44 States)”

Today, the Network Management Airspace Design activity continues to support Air Navigation Service Providers in the development, coordination, validation and implementation of proposals to optimise the European airspace structure, for both enroute and terminal airspace.

This work is carried out by the Route Network Development Sub-Group (RNDSG) of the Network Operations team, in a fully collaborative process from a European Network approach, beginning with broad operational requirements that are gradually refined into specific airspace proposals for implementation:

  • Step 1: Identify current and foreseen problem areas and their causes;
  • Step 2: If problems are due to inefficiencies in the airspace structure (ATS route network availability or ATC sectorisation), develop airspace structure improvement proposals that will alleviate the problem, accommodate demand and balance ATC workload;
  • Step 3: Detailed proposals, together with their “modus operandi”, are elaborated, coordinated, refined and validated at local, regional and Network level. Proposals are assessed for their impact on both capacity and environment (flight efficiency);
  • Step 4: A phased implementation programme is agreed and carried out in accordance with publication and implementation requirements.

Network oriented approach

Working arrangements

Cooperative Decision Making Process and Detailed Working Arrangements

Within the broad strategic vision of the European ATM Network, there has to be an objective balance between national, regional and Europe-wide requirements.

Expertise at State level is fundamental to both national and international airspace design projects through participation in the relevant groups for collaborative planning. Registration for the appropriate working groups can be requested through One Sky on-line.

The Cooperative Decision Making Process for the European Route Network Improvement Plan has been approved by the Network Management Board. The detailed Network Manager working arrangements supporting the development of the European Route Network Improvement Plan are:

The Network Operations Team (NETOPS) and its following sub-structures:

  • The Route Network Development Sub-Group (RNDSG)
  • The Airspace Management Sub-Group (ASMSG)
  • The ATM Procedures Sub-Group (APDSG)
  • The ATFCM Operations and Development Sub-Group (ODSG)
  • The Navigation Sub-Group (NSG)

The Network Manager also consults other ad-hoc expert groups and the Functional Airspace Block working arrangements in the development of the European Route Network Improvement Plan.

Flight efficiency

Flight Efficiency

The considerable investment and collaborative actions to increase enroute capacity have not only reduced delays, but have also improved the efficiency of the enroute network, resulting in shorter distance flown and with the associated fuel savings being directly translatable into environmental benefits.

In times of economic recession the importance of an efficient route network is magnified, with many users preferring to take a delay rather than a route extension. The choice of route varies between airlines, and also for different flights operated by the same airline, and is influenced by a number of different factors, including time of day, rotation of flight (knock-on effect of delays), fuel price paid, applicable ATC route charges, position of the high altitude winds, and even the currency exchange rate.

Clearly, the development of the airspace structure plays a major role in improving both flight efficiency and capacity, by providing alternative routeing options to accommodate diverse user requirements - including civil and military airspace users.

The Network Manager is responsible for coordinating Airspace Structure Development at European ATM Network level, ensuring that local and sub-regional initiatives are fully coordinated and do not negatively impact the network.